What Is a Carb?

What are carbohydrates? What are starches? What are sugars? And what is the difference?


Wisdom (or rather current Government nutritional guidelines) would have you believe that the ‘carbohydrate’ food group consists of starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and the like. And they’d be right.

However carbohydrates, like proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals also, are in fact found in all sorts of foods, from fruit and veg to sweets and chocolate and even milk and other dairy products. Even sausages have carbs in them when breadcrumbs, rusk or other grains are added!

Carbohydrates can be divided into two categories;

Sugars, such as the carbohydrates found in fruit, sweets, table sugar and honey and other ‘sweet’ foods are very quickly digested and sent to the blood stream, resulting in an insulin surge, causing fat storage.

Starches such as rice, potatoes and grains (wheat etc.) are also digested fairly quickly (though not as fast as sugars) and can also lead to fat storage. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are digested much more slowly, and are a good substitute for white potatoes, though should still eaten be in limited amounts if you are trying to achieve a fat burning state.

Now here’s where it gets a little complicated. Protein and fibre slow down digestion. This is what makes them more satisfying than carb based meals but is also why they reduce this sugar-to-blood-to-fat cells process. So a potato with the skin and a chicken breast will have less of an impact on fat storage than cheap (low meat content) chicken nuggets with mashed potato, even if both meals have the same total calories.

Beans and legumes are high in carbohydrates, but also have fibre and protein which makes them more satisfying and results in a slower blood sugar rise, so are a better choice of carb on a fat-loss lifestyle.

And if you want to be really clever, time food and exercise so that you eat your carbs as soon as you can after exercising. This refuels the muscles so they recover and repair quicker. And as you are learning, strong muscles are at the heart of an efficient, energy boosting, fat burning metabolism.

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